So a couple of days ago I saw Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out, which I loved. Best thing they’ve put out in years. But, me being me, one of the first things I thought about when it was over was: What would go on in the Control Room of someone possessed by the Evil? And the obvious choice to explore that was poor little Madison McClain, from Chapter 1 of The Forgotten. So I wrote this.
Disclaimer: The Inside Out characters are owned by Disney/Pixar. I’m just borrowing them. Please don’t sue me.
Spoiler warning: If you haven’t read at least the first chapter of The Forgotten (which you can find here) and seen Inside Out, there will be spoilers for both (and kinda spoilers for the whole Forgotten, but only in a general sense).
Warning: This story is dark. Really dark. No happy endings here. No, really.
Okay? Okay. Here goes:
The Evil Inside
Madison was asleep when the stranger showed up.
Joy, on duty in the Control Room, half-dozed as she watched the familiar dream unfold on the screen: Madison in her pink tutu and Stripey—looking suspiciously less like a stuffed zebra and more like a handsome prince in zebra-striped tights—spinning with airy grace through a fairy-tale ballroom stocked with admiring onlookers. This being a dream, the onlookers consisted of everything from a purple human-sized cat to a cheering toaster to Madison’s teacher dressed in a silky ball gown and oversized rhinestone-studded sunglasses. Joy leaned on her hand and smiled. It had been a good day, and this was a good dream. One of the best, repeated in some form at least a couple times a month.
She noticed the chill first: a creeping cold that started at her feet and swirled upward. “Hey,” she called, pushing off the console and turning to look behind her. “Sadness, did you leave the window open again? You—”
What stood behind her bore no resemblance to Sadness’s familiar, blue, teardrop-shaped form. In fact, it didn’t look like anything Joy had ever seen in Madison’s brain before. “Who…are you?” she asked. “You shouldn’t be here.”
Taller and wider than Joy, it had a vague humanoid shape but without clear borders. It was made of roiling blacks and grays with flashes of red darting through like lightning strikes at the edges of a storm. It had no face.
Joy’s expression faltered. Nothing was supposed to be able to get into the Control Room—nothing but her and her four counterparts who kept Madison’s psyche running smoothly. This thing looked like it had bubbled up from somewhere in the deepest reaches of the little girl’s subconscious. That wasn’t supposed to be possible, though. And in any case, Joy doubted that Madison’s happy life thus far had given even the darkest of her hidden corners the fuel to conjure up something like this.
It regarded her in silence.
“You need to go back to where you came from,” Joy ordered. “Go on.” She glanced sideways at the viewscreen: the bouncy, lilting music had taken on a sinister, minor-key aspect, and the light in the fancy ballroom had dimmed. In her bed, Madison shifted, her small face scrunching in discomfort.
“Go on,” Joy said again when it didn’t move. “You’ll wake her up.”
The thing raised a foggy appendage and swept it to the side. Joy shrieked as she was lifted and tossed into a wall. Glowing memories fell from shelves and clinked to the floor next to her, rolling off in all directions. By the time she’d scrambled back to her feet, the thing had floated over and stood contemplating the console.
“Get away from there!” she yelled, running over. She could have shoved it, but she didn’t: something inside her didn’t want to touch it. “Oh, no, look! You woke her up!”
And indeed, Madison had sat up in her bed.
“What’s going on?” a voice from behind Joy shouted. “What’s all the noise up here?”
As usual, Anger was yelling. He stumped forward on his stubby legs, followed closely by Sadness and a sleepy-looking Disgust. Fear trailed behind them. All of them stopped when they got a look at the black form looming over the console.
“What’s that thing?” Sadness asked in her doleful tones. “I don’t think it should be here, Joy.”
“Why the heck is she awake?” Anger’s voice was loud and strident. “Why’d you let that thing near the console, Joy?” He strode forward. “Let’s get it outta here and maybe we can get Madison back to sleep again before she—”
He stopped and stared. After a moment, the rest of them did too.
On the screen, Madison had swung her legs off the bed and stood. She paused a moment as if orienting herself, but her eyes were fixed on a point far away.
“Is she sleepwalking?” Fear asked, creeping forward. “Oh, no, she’ll trip over something!”
Joy didn’t answer. She’d never seen an expression like that on Madison’s face, and she had no idea what to make of it.
“Well, somebody’s gotta take care of business around here!” Anger growled. He moved next to the black figure at the console. “Hey, you! Didn’t you hear us? You’re not supposed to be here. Get out before I kick your keister!” He reached for its arm and tried to tug it away.
His hand passed through its arm like it was made of air. It turned its no-face to him. Anger dropped to the floor, shrieking his rage in inarticulate sputters. The red lightning strikes around the creature intensified, crackling over its form.
Madison was moving now. She walked first to her desk, where she opened her purple pencil case without turning on a light and withdrew a single pencil. She examined it for a moment in the dim illumination of her fairy-castle nightlight, then crossed the room and exited, leaving the door open behind her.
“What’s she doing?” Fear asked in a shaky voice. “That looked really sharp. She might fall on it and hurt herself.”
“I don’t think she’s awake,” Sadness said.
“She’s not,” Joy agreed numbly. “But she’s not sleepwalking either.”
“What’s wrong with her, then?” Disgust asked.
Anger picked himself up off the floor. At the console, the creature watched the viewscreen and ignored the rest of them.
Madison moved with purpose down the darkened hallway toward another closed door.
“We have to do something,” Disgust said. “What if she has to pee and does it in a chair or something?”
“She’s going to her mom’s room,” Joy said. “Why is she doing that?”
“I’m gonna stop her,” Anger said. He stalked forward but almost immediately drew up short and crashed back on his butt, as if he’d just run into an invisible wall. “What the—?”
Sadness tiptoed forward, moving with care until she brought her hands up. “I can’t get past.”
They all tried, and they all failed. They could see the thing was doing something to the console, but no matter what they tried, they couldn’t affect it.
On the screen, Madison quietly opened the door at the end of the hall and stepped inside. Moonlight shone in through the window, illuminating the sleeping form of a woman. She lay on her back, one arm thrown over her head, one bare foot sticking out from beneath the covers. She didn’t stir when Madison came in.
“What’s she doing?” Fear demanded, his quavering voice taking on more urgency. “What’s that thing making her do? Run away, Madison! Go back to your room where it’s safe!”
For a moment, Madison hesitated. Then her face set into a mask, her dead, expressionless eyes fixed on her mother. She gripped the pencil, her silent bare feet propelling her forward until she stood next to the bed.
The red lightning intensified around the foggy black thing.
Madison raised the pencil.
“No!” Joy yelled. “Madison, no, don’t—”
Methodically, with no emotion or wasted movement or hesitation, Madison brought the pencil down and jammed its point into her sleeping mother’s eye socket.
“NO!” Joy screamed. She battered her little fists against the barrier, but it might as well have been a steel wall. The foggy thing was made of lightning now. It was bigger. It was growing.
Fear shrieked, and Anger yelled a word that Madison wasn’t supposed to know yet. Disgust and Sadness stared at each other in shocked horror.
Joy wanted to look away, but she couldn’t. If she looked away, she’d give up any remaining chance to wrest Madison’s consciousness from the grip of this horrific interloper.
So she watched. She watched as Madison took three steps back and regarded her mother thrashing and heaving on the bed with impassive disinterest. The thrashing only lasted a few seconds. Her mother didn’t scream, but only moaned, a guttural sound of animal agony deep in the back of her throat. Her hands flailed and fluttered, their movements disconnected from the fading commands of her ruined brain. Gradually, the thrashing subsided and she went still, the pencil shaft still sticking up from her face, blood running down and pooling to form dark stains on the flowered sheets beneath her.
The creature, all red and jagged and alive with energy, stepped back from the console and moved off to the side. Sadness and Anger, who’d been beating their fists upon the barrier, suddenly staggered forward as it disappeared.
“What do we do?” Fear shrieked. He stared down at the buttons and levers of Madison’s control console like he’d never seen them before. “How do we fix this?”
“I…don’t think we do,” Joy said, and her voice was bleak. “Look.”
They looked. Outside, Madison had sunk down to a seated position next to her mother’s bed. Off in the distance, all of them heard the unmistakable, terrible rumbling. And they all knew what it meant.
“There goes Family…” Sadness said in a monotone.
“Goofball’s gone already,” Disgust said, pointing to where it had been.
“No…” Joy whispered, watching as one by one, the islands forming the foundations of Madison’s personality crumbled and crashed into the black nothingness of the void.
Anger whirled on the thing that had caused all of this. “What are you?” he screamed. “Why would you do this?” He flung himself at it, but once again passed through as if it weren’t there and slammed into the wall. More memories cascaded down.
And then the thing spoke, for the first time. “You can have her back,” it said. Its voice was flat, alien, cold as Madison’s despair. “Do what you like with her. But remember—she belongs to me now.”
Joy looked at the thing, then at her fellows, and then finally at the raised area behind the console where Madison’s core memories—the keys to her psyche—resided. They were still there, each small sphere settled in its place, but it didn’t matter anymore. Their formerly brilliant, mostly-golden glowing forms were even now being engulfed, one by one, by an encroaching, all-encompassing grayness. As Joy watched, the gray tide submerged the last of them. Their lights dimmed, flickered, and went out.
A little blue hand slipped into hers, and she looked down into Sadness’s glittering eyes. “What do we do, Joy?” Sadness whispered.
Behind her, Anger, Disgust, and Fear stood mute, waiting for an answer.
It took Joy a long time to reply. When she did, she didn’t look at any of them.
“I don’t know.”
The thing in the corner had no face, so none of them could see it smiling.